Rainbow Veteran Receives the Perfect Send Off
Otto Jaehnert and his family knew he didn’t have much time left when he was admitted to Rainbow Hospice Care the day after Christmas in 2019.
“Rainbow’s array of services and staff of caring professionals dramatically improved dad’s quality of life,” said Otto’s son, Neil Jaehnert. “My sisters and I were impressed with the way Rainbow immediately assumed responsibility for his well-being and worked to find any way they could make his life better.”
Otto certainly lived a full life. He served in the United States Air Force at the end of World War II and soon got married and went on to have three children. He then began working as a printer while performing on weekends as a drummer in a band.
He and his wife Inez were still very active throughout their late eighties. They drove to see friends in the area, attended daily Mass, and visited family. They limited their excursions the last few years but remained in relatively good health at Sunset Ridge Memory Care in Jefferson. The highlight of their life during that time was the arrival of their great-grandson, Nolan, who lit up their lives whenever he came for a visit.
“The birth of Nolan gave dad a sense of purpose,” Jaehnert said. “Every week at the Sunset Ridge bingo games, he worked diligently at winning prizes, like small stuffed animals that he tucked away for Nolan’s next visit.”
Every time they spoke, his son Neil got an update on how many things Otto had won, what they were, and then Otto would ask when Nolan would be coming to visit next.
When Otto’s wife Inez passed away in February 2019 at age 93, he not only lost his soulmate but a piece of himself. They had been married for 70 years and were inseparable.
“Dad was devastated,” Jaehnert said. “Once mom died, we knew that the one thing dad wanted most was to join her but he patiently waited and cheered himself with old photos and family visits.”
When Otto’s health declined, the Jaehnert family contacted Rainbow Hospice Care. After discovering that Otto was a veteran, Rainbow knew they had to do something special for him. With the help of the local American Legion and Sunset Ridge they arranged a pinning ceremony for January 13, 2020.
On that day Otto was center stage, with his son Neil and his oldest daughter by his side. They were greeted by the commander of American Legion Post 164 out of Jefferson, Robbie Robinson, and another legion member. The spotlight was on Otto as he talked about his time in the service. It was a time that helped shape him for decades to come as a husband, father, neighbor, and citizen.
Robinson, who also has been a volunteer for the past two years through Rainbow Hospice Care’s We Honor Veterans program, presented Otto with a plaque and read the commendation on it to Otto. Then he gave him a blanket decorated with his branch of the service, and placed a military pin on his shirt collar before saluting him.
Otto’s neighbor at Sunset Ridge, a fellow veteran of the Women’s Air Corp in World War II, also arrived in her wheelchair and spontaneously saluted him that day.
“There’s a good chance neither of them knew before that moment that they were family too, connected through their service during World War II,” said Rainbow Hospice Care Social Worker Kathy Boettcher. “That day he sat straighter, his eyes were clearer, and he reveled in the admiration of his family and community. By finding ways for patients and families to take another look at important times in their lives they find joy and a deeper connection.”
A smiling Otto gave what would be his final salute in return, while members from the American Legion, Otto’s family, and some staff from Rainbow Hospice Care applauded loudly.
“He was truly honored and his smile left no doubt about how he felt,” Jaehnert said. “He chatted with the guests about training on B-29s and being discharged as the war ended. His only regret about the wonderful afternoon was that his late wife couldn’t be there to see it.”
The next day, less than 24 hours after the pinning ceremony, Otto passed away at the age of 94. After a day of special gifts from Rainbow Hospice Care and the American Legion, Otto received the best gift he could ask for- the chance to be reunited with his beloved Inez.
Veterans Day is certainly an important time to remember the men and women past and present who have served our country, but caring for veterans at the end of their lives is a great honor for Rainbow Hospice Care’s staff no matter what time of the year.
“Bringing families and communities together to celebrate veterans as their time grows shorter is an amazing experience,” Boettcher said. “It’s difficult to describe the importance of those events and moments, but it certainly is something that can be felt. Everyone in the room felt it that day and especially Otto. What a lovely parting gift for him and for us.”